Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Englanders, the culture-dominant minority?   posted by Razib @ 11/16/2008 06:26:00 PM

Cultural Regions of the United States came out in the 1970s, so it is a little dated in terms of "contemporary" observations. For example, the author obviously didn't internalize the long-term impact of Quebec's Quiet Revolution, as he posited that because of fertility rate differences between traditionalist Quebec and progressive New England the latter region would eventually be inundated by immigrants from the former. Despite the large numbers of French (Quebecois) Americans along the northern periphery of New England the ethnic flood never occurred because of the convergence of cultural mores and birthrates between the two regions. But the data and interpretation of 19th century America in the book remain valuable.

One of the obvious inferences that can be made from the data is that New Englanders shaped the culture and polities of many regions of the United States where they were a minority. Boston was self-consciously the Athens of America. Not only does this region have many elite universities, but the more prominent state institutions such as the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin were started in part by Yankees who valued these sorts of public investments. The role of New Englanders in primary education throughout the United States is well known, Puritan America may have been the world's first universally literate society, and they were intent on spreading this trait across every group into the United States.

Though New Englanders were often outnumbered by later waves of immigration from the Upland South (e.g., Scots-Irish), as in the Pacific Northwest's Willamette Valley or Northern California, they were overrepresented among the intelligentsia and captains of industry. In the western Upper Midwest Yankees were absorbed by a sea of Northern European immigration, but for several generations they retained a hold on the cultural and capital classes. One might contend that many of the complaints about the "brainwashing" which occurs at elite universities of bright but impressionable young men and women is simply the latest manifestation of the conflict between numerically superior Middle America and the elitist New England outlook (even outside of New England, see Leland Stanford's biography).

Here's a table from page 209:

Nativity in 1850

State of residence Own State Old Northwest New England Middle Atlantic South Europe
Ohio 64% 0% 3% 15% 8% 10%
Indiana 53% 14% 1% 8% 18% 6%
Illinois 41% 13% 4% 13% 15% 13%
Michigan 35% 5% 8% 38% 1% 14%
Wisconsin 21% 8% 9% 26% 2% 35%

There's an important note to this table, a disproportionate number of those from the "Middle Atlantic" are from areas of upstate New York which were settled from New England, so the proportions for New England are large underestimates. You can see that even in 1850 the general cultural outline of many states was established. In Wisconsin and Minnesota the original Yankee stock paled in comparison to the numbers of Scandinavians and Germans. Far less of this would occur in Michigan, and some immigrant groups such as the Dutch in southwest portion of the state had folkways very similar to those of the Yankees from New England. Some states, such as Illinois and Ohio, were bisected between a northern and southern half where migrants from different areas of the United States settled. In contrast, Indiana was settled mostly from neighboring regions of the South.

Here's a map of female white life expectancy:

Source: 8 Americas